Breast Cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are detected in the tissues of the breast. These cells usually arise from the ducts or the lobules in the breast. These cancer cells can then spread within the tissue or organ and to other parts of the body.
How Common Is Breast Cancer?
Breast Cancer is the second leading cause of death in women today. In Singapore almost every 1 in 16 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Chinese women have a higher risk compared to Malay or Indian by about 10-20%. The highest incidence is in the 55 – 59 years age group. The risk of breast cancer increases with age. The good news is that more women are surviving the disease as a result of earlier detection and improved treatment.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
The triggering factors of this cancer are unknown. It could be attributed to a family history of breast cancer, early menarche or other possible risk factors. As it is difficult to ascertain, any one of us can be at risk, especially when we are aged 40 and above. While the factors are unknown, a complete cure is possible with early detection through regular breast checks.
Signs and Symptoms
|Anatomy of Breast|
|Warning Signs of Breast Cancer|
Guidelines on Breast Screening
39 Years and below
40 to 49 Years
50 Years and above
Diagnosis & Assessment
How Is Diagnosis Made?
- Clinical Examination – Especially if a lump, nipple discharge or an unusual breast change is detected.
- Mammogram – This may detect changes such as abnormal densities or calcium deposits.
- Ultrasound Scan – This is used to target a specific area of concern found on the mammogram or may be used to detect abnormalities that are not well seen on the mammogram. An ultrasound scan can distinguish between a solid mass, which may be a cancer, and a fluid-filled cyst, which is usually not cancer.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI – In some cases, patients go for a MRI scan to better screen or examine suspicious areas. This is particularly useful for younger women because younger women have an increased breast tissue density and conventional imaging tests such as mammogram or ultrasound are less sensitive and specific for detecting breast cancer.
What Is Biopsy?
To confirm breast cancer, a biopsy will have to be performed in which cells or a piece of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope.
Common biopsy techniques:
- Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA)
- Core Needle or Tru-cut Biopsy
- Excision Biopsy
How is Breast Cancer assessed?
A. STAGES / EXTENT OF SPREAD
|STAGE||Extent of Spread|| Average|
|0||Non invasive cancer||99|
|I|| Small invasive cancer|
(less than 2cm without spreading to the axillary lymph nodes)
|II|| Invasive cancer|
(between 2-5cm or/with lymph nodes invasion)
|III|| Large invasive cancer|
(more than 5cm with skin invasion or spread to multiple lymph nodes)
|IV|| Widespread or|
B. CHARACTERISTICS OF BREAST CANCER THAT IMPACTS ON RELAPSE AND SURVIVAL
TUMOR GRADE HISTOLOGIC GRADE
This refers to how much the tumor cells resemble normal cells when viewed under the microscope; the grading scale is 1 to 3. Grade 3 tumors contain very abnormal and rapidly growing cancer cells. The higher the histologic grade, the greater the chance of breast cancer relapsing.
The number of lymph nodes that is in the armpit, on the same side of the affected breast, is an important indicator. A higher number of positive nodes is associated with a worse outcome and warrants more aggressive treatments.
In general, the larger the size of tumor, the greater the chance of breast cancer reoccurring.
About two-thirds of all breast cancers contain significant levels of estrogen and/or progesterone receptors. They are referred to as estrogen receptor positive (ER+) tumors. ER-positive tumors tend to grow less aggressively and may respond favorably to treatment with hormones.
HER2 is a protein found on the surface of certain cancer cells. A tumor is described as being HER2-positive when it has a lot more HER2 receptors than others. About 20-25% of all breast cancers have tumors labeled HER2-positive. Tumors that are HER2-positive tend to grow more quickly than other types of breast cancer.
By knowing if a cancer is HER2-positive can affect the choice of treatment because women with such tumor can benefit from a drug called trastuzumab (Herceptin®).
Treatment & Care
How Is Breast Cancer Treated?
Treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the stage of the cancer (whether it is in the breast only or has spread to other places in the body), the type of breast cancer, certain characteristics of the cancer cells and whether the cancer is found in the other breast. A woman's age, menopausal status (whether a woman still has menstrual periods) and her general health can also affect treatment options and prognosis.
Most have surgery to remove the cancer. Forms of surgery include:
1) Breast-conserving surgery
- Lumpectomy or Wide Local Excision – removal of the cancer and a small amount of surrounding tissue
- Quadrantectomy – removal of more surrounding tissue than a lumpectomy. For a quadrantectomy, one-quarter of the breast is removed.
2) Mastectomy – removal of the whole breast.
During both of the above breast surgeries, some of the lymph nodes under the same armpit will also be removed for examination.
Physical rehabilitation includes:
- Shoulder exercises after surgery
- Arm care to avoid lymphoedema
- Balanced Nutrition and lifestyle adaptation to enhance recovery
Mental rehabilitation involves:
- Close support of spouse, family, friends & support groups
- A woman may feel reassured by knowing her chances of survival
- Attending doctor reviews regularly
Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to target and kill cancer cells. The goal is to kill any cancer that might be left in or around the breast.
Radiotherapy is vital after a breast-conserving surgery like lumpectomy, since much of the breast tissue is left intact. It will lower the chances of the cancer returning in the breast.
Most women who have a mastectomy do not need radiotherapy. However, in some cases, it is used to treat the chest wall and the lymph nodes in the armpit, if the risk of local recurrence is high.
- Hormonal Therapy
- Trastuzumab (Herceptin®)
|What Is The Best Approach To Care?|
|The development of a treatment plan by a multi-disciplinary team – breast surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, medical & radiation oncologists, radiologists, social workers and breast care nurses to diagnose, treat and manage the condition has shown to improve the outcome for patients with cancer.|
What kind of support is available?
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As part of the holistic approach towards cancer treatment, CanHOPE works closely with the medical & allied health professionals, offering a wide range of resources & information about cancer in helping patients & their caregivers to make effective, informed decisions in their treatment journey.
Join us in our support programmes that are available on a monthly basis.
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